One of the coolest things about living here in San Diego is our close proximity to Mexico. From the brewery, it’s a 15-minute drive to the border and from there the possibilities of international fun are endless. Superb food, delicious wine, craft beer, warm people and a scenic drive are all waiting for you in Baja, so grab your passport and use this day-trip itinerary that the Thorn crew recently followed in Mexico.
Mexican Insurance is Your Friend
First things first, you’ve got to get Mexican insurance before heading across the border. Most American insurances will not cover you down there and you don’t want to have to foot the bill for both your damage and any damage you might cause. Mexican insurance is cheap and it’s easy to get. There are tons of places to stop at the border before you drive across. Our favorite is Baja-Mex, which is right by the outlet mall at the border, because not only can you get coverage there but you also can exchange your dollars into pesos. You can also buy get coverage through their website from the comfort of your own home, print out the documents and you are good to go. The exchange rate was 17.8 pesos to $1 when we went. To quickly calculate costs, just divide the cost of something (in pesos) by 17.8 and you will get the dollar cost of whatever you are buying. We were quickly taken care of by Chuy, the owner, and were off on our way within minutes.
When setting out on a day of drinking, it’s always a good idea to put down a good base first. There is no better place to get an authentic Mexican meal than La Cocina Dona Estela. This family-owned restaurant is at the end of a long dirt road in the Valle de Guadalupe. The restaurant is spacious with plenty of seating and while it doesn’t have AC, it does have lots of fans that keep it cooler in there than the 100 degrees it was outside when we got there. The highlights of the meal were the rojo chilaquiles, nopales, fresh tortillas, hand-squeezed lemonade and if you are feeling frisky in the morning, the sangria. Also, when you sit down they bring you a heap of freshly made tortilla chips, salsa, and queso fresco to get you started. The restaurant is surrounded by a bevy of animals like pigs, cows, and goats and we were treated to the incredibly enjoyable sight of pigs swimming on our way out.
After filling up on Dona Estela’s delicious food it was time to start wine tasting. Valle de Guadalupe is home to over 151 wineries ranging from small family-owned wineries to expansive wine-focused resorts. Being that this was a quick day-trip and we had plans in Tijuana at 5 pm, we decided to hit up 2-3 stops for wine. We started out at Adobe Guadalupe, a winery that is also a horse farm which happens to be the largest breeder of Azteca Sporthorses in the world. This winery is in a church type building and is air conditioned, which is a major bonus on a hot summer day. The wines were really tasty, especially the Bordeaux, and only $10 for a tasting of 5 wines.
Next, we headed to Monte Xanic (pronounced Monte Shaneek) for the next round of wine tasting. This winery is perched up on a hill and has probably one of the best views of the Valle. While not air conditioned, it’s hilltop location meant that there was a nice breeze that came through as we tasted away. Again, the tastings were a smashing deal at $10 for 6 tastings of both reds and whites.
Any trip to the Valle isn’t complete until you stop at Finca Altozano from renowned chef, Javier Plascencia. This expansive, open-air restaurant has beautiful views of the Valle and some of the best food we’ve had anywhere. What’s cool about this place is that rather than just having one brand of wine to taste, they have an extensive wine and craft beer list from the local wineries and breweries. We settled on bottles of a dry Rose that was chilled and refreshing. Maybe it was that we were finally acclimating to the temperature or maybe it was that this was our third stop of th day but even though it was 100+ degrees, sitting on their deck sipping wine in the shade was relaxing and comfortable. The food was the star here, though. Our favorite dishes were the grilled octopus, handmade sausages, grilled corn, octopus ceviche, ahi tostada and their freshly baked bread with 4 different sauces of varying degrees of heat. The grilled octopus was definitely the must-have dish of the meal, with a savory, wine and butter sauce that was to-die-for.
Finally, we headed back to Tijuana for the last stop in our Baja day-trip, a Club Tijuana soccer game. For many of us, it was our first time at a Xolos game and it really was a blast. The huge red and black stadium arose out of a packed parking lot filled with tailgaters and bands. Not Mariachi bands, though, more like small vagabond marching bands which were jamming all throughout the parking lot, lending a celebratory feel even before entering the stadium. Once inside the stadium, it was impossible not to be caught up in the general excitement that was flows through the crowd. The soccer game was entertaining, but perhaps one of the best things at the game was La Masakr3, or the Massacre, which is a group of rabid fans that sit behind one of the goals. They literally never stopped moving the entire game. Whether flag waving, fist pumping or clapping, they moved to the intoxicating beat of multiple drums that would kick any drum circle’s ass from our hippie college days. In fact, it’s rumored that if the fans in this section stop moving, they get poked or are asked to leave, so they take their cheering pretty seriously.
Bonus: on our walk back to the van from the game, we came across a random zoo or big cat enclosure. There were tigers, white tigers, jaguars and more, all within arms reach and without the pesky safety enclosures that American zoos have in place. You could literally walk right up to the cages and if you are dumb enough stick your fingers through. I think that they are owned by Agua Caliente but it’s unclear from my internet sleuthing.
So there you have it, an easy Baja day-trip itinerary that will leave you full of food, wine, and fun. The best part is that it was a quick crossing at the border at 10 pm on a Tuesday night and we were all tucked in our own beds by 11 pm. If you have a weekend to spend at the wineries, that’s even better, but it’s such an easy day-trip, don’t put it off if you are searching for the time.
Want to win a trip for 2 to tag along the next time we go to the Valle? Just sign up for our Facebook Messenger group at http://bit.ly/2eqTcJp and type in the word “Valle” and you will be entered!